MORRISBURG – Attendance was light as Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon held a pre-budget consultation with South Dundas residents and business owners at the McIntosh Country Inn and Conference Centre on Fri., Feb. 2.

Lauzon was quite emphatic that the consultations are key to formulating recommendation that will be presented to the federal finance minister for their budget.

“You’re the brains. Jim Flaherty used to come around and say, ‘I want you to go out and talk to your constituents because the good ideas don’t originate in Ottawa, usually they’re bad ideas. The good ideas originate out there in the ridings’… you can tell us what you need here,” Lauzon said.

One of the more common complaints was the overwhelming amount of paperwork that’s required for small business owners to apply for funding, grants, student employment or to simply do business on a day-to-day basis.

Lauzon was quick to agree with the contingent.

“I had meetings with American business people… just before Christmas. Six very successful business people under 40 and I said ‘what do you think of the situation with Mr. Trump’ and they said, ‘you know Trump hasn’t reduced the taxes yet, which he’s going to; however, he’s reduced the regulations and we love him for that. Now we can do business’… so that’s important.”

The primary concern though was how area businesses can better promote themselves and the region. A lack of cohesion and communication between different levels of government, the tourism sector and the businesses they support was a common theme. A few of the business owners were unaware that there is a budget in place and a tourism co-ordinator charged with promoting the area.

Donnie Bowes, artistic director and marketing manager of the Upper Canada Playhouse, suggested it was incumbent on local business owners to take a more active interest in self-promotion, but local municipalities could also do more advertising to help.

“The municipalities should be taking a page [ad] and saying ‘this is why you should come down here.’… I think internally people are going to have to start promoting their areas much better and I think there’s opportunities to do that if we keep in contact with each other and use the money we get to do that. Not so that the provincial or federal government can take a pass… but I think that we have to really find ways of promoting ourselves because sometimes it ain’t gonna happen unless we do,” said Bowes. 

Keeping local communities vibrant and growing may be what the federal government aims to do, but the reality is young people are still flocking to urban centres for greener pastures. Michael Elshof, manager of Collins Barrow in Morrisburg, posed the question to Lauzon.

“Aside from farmers there are not a lot of people taking over their parents businesses. I think that’s a big thing here in this area. If we don’t see that succession here, within the next generation I don’t know what’s going to be left unless the urban sprawl from Ottawa comes this way. I think that’s sad. I don’t know if there’s anything on the federal level that you guys are doing to combat that or is there a push to urbanize everything?” asked Elshof.

While Lauzon didn’t answer the question directly, he did reiterate that in order for people’s concerns to be heard by the government, there is strength in numbers.

“I’m supposed to bring their message, but my message falls on deaf ears unless I’ve got 120 people at a meeting backing me up. That’s what we need… Yes we get some submissions through email and we’ll probably end up with about 100 submissions this time, but it seems to me that [if] we had that meeting and it was in the media and that [would be] more effective than sending emails to the finance minister… 

There’s power in numbers. If we had a thousand people here today we’d send a hell of a [message],” Lauzon said.

The suggestions put forward during the public meeting will be used to work on a recommendation for the budget that would see greater incentives for advertising or a grant for local chambers of commerce to better promote their regions.

“What’s good about this is it’s going to help a lot of people. Not only people in South Dundas, it can help people right across Canada.  Because all small communities are having the same discussion we’re having,” said Lauzon.